This is an extraordinarily sharp insight (subs needed) from Gordon Brown in the New Statesman which ought not escape without mention here on Slugger. It’s about the future of the British Union, but from the point of view of power (and its increasingly narrow internal distribution within the UK):
It is too early to say whether Britain will break up, but we can say already that it is breaking down. Wales, Liverpool and Manchester have been declaring their version of independence over their response to the pandemic. And as No 10 implodes, my own nation, Scotland, already has one foot out the door of its 300-year-old Union with England.
The virus and recession – and the well-publicised splits over local lockdowns, over who manages public health and welfare best, and who pays for what – have exposed a centre that does not listen and outlying areas that do not feel they are consulted.
The pandemic has brutally exposed a centre that has control over the country’s resources but does not know what’s happening on the ground; whose own ignorance has been juxtaposed with outlying communities who have far greater local knowledge but few resources.
And Boris Johnson’s reported “devolution has been a disaster” outburst – implying his management from the centre is a great success story – shows how out of touch he is: part of that No 10 faction that does not even admit there is a problem and the days of over-centralisation are numbered. [Emphasis added throughout]
There’s an odd consonance between this true observation of Brown’s and the premise of my own essay (the thinking behind which I hope to share more broadly before the weekend) for CongRegation.ie’s “unconference” at the weekend:
The US’s slump into circular (and exit free) culture war narratives is really a failure of the central machine of government to connect with the interests of a diverse citizenry whose parish domains in some cases lie not too far distant beyond the Washington beltway.
Brown demonstrates that much of the sentiment driving towards Scottish independence is not just culture narratives but an understanding about power. London looks to be on a mission to run every small unit of civilisation out of Whitehall rather than, say, allow Aberdeenshire Council to manage the affairs of Inverurie.
Neoliberalism quietly bleeding into fractal neofeudalism? Well, maybe. Brown argues that large parts of the UK are being now being treated as though they were serfs, of no account:
As the populist Brexit and nationalist rebellions have demonstrated, millions of people are saying they feel ignored – forgotten and invisible – and treated as second-class citizens in their own country.
It’s not as though the same patterns are not to be seen in Ireland (by which I mean both the Republic and Northern Ireland) but Brown is thee first senior level politician in either place that has usefully copped on to this drift between how the centre understands the world and how it is experienced at the edge.
It’s well worth subscribing (for free) to the New Statesman, just to read the whole thing.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty